There have been recent reports of job candidates who were
rejected for roles because they had tattoos. Is this lawful and how
far can employers take their aversions to tattoos?
Many employers may feel that tattoos give a bad impression to
their clients. Broadly speaking, this is an acceptable policy for
employers to have. However, care should be exercised before the
policy is strictly applied to job candidates and existing
Whilst having tattoos is not specifically protected by equality
legislation, all applicants for jobs are protected under the
Equality Act if the reason that they did not get a job was
discriminatory. Whilst a policy against tattoos may not be
obviously discriminatory, a blanket ban could be indirectly
Indirect discrimination occurs where a seemingly neutral
provision has a disproportionate impact on a group who share a
protected characteristic (such as age, gender, race, a disability).
Although a policy against tattoos would appear to affect all job
applicants equally, it may, for example, have a disproportionate
impact on people from certain cultures in which tattoos are more
prevalent, such as those with Maori heritage.
However, employers may be able to justify policies that are
indirectly discriminatory by showing that there is a good reason
for it and is not excessive. For instance, rather than deciding not
to hire someone with a tattoo sleeve, an employer could ask them to
wear long sleeve shirts instead.
A blanket policy against tattoos could also be problematic for
existing employees. Putting discrimination aside, if an employer
dismissed an employee with two years for getting a tattoo, the
decision to dismiss would be unfair unless the employer could
successfully convince an Employment Tribunal that the tattoo was a
substantial enough reason to justify a dismissal. That seems
The best course for an employer is to carefully record the
reason a candidate was unsuccessful for a role at interview and
think carefully before imposing blanket dress code policies to
staff or new joiners.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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